November 30, 2008
The depth of the historical victory was revealed in the jubilation of millions who spontaneously gathered in downtowns and public spaces across the country, as the media networks called Obama the winner. When President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama took the platform in Chicago to deliver his powerful but sobering victory speech, hundreds of millions-Black, Latino, Asian, Native-American and white, men and women, young and old, literally danced in the streets and wept with joy, celebrating an achievement of a dramatic milestone in a 400-year struggle, and anticipating a new period of hope and possibility.
Now a new period of struggle begins, but on a higher plane. An emerging progressive majority will be confronted with many challenges and obstacles not seen for decades. Left and progressive organizers face difficult, uncharted terrain, a bumpy road. But much more interesting problems are before us, with solutions, should they be achieved, promising much greater gains and rewards. for the America of popular democracy....read more here.
November 28, 2008
The novels are murder mysteries set in the early 18th century in Istanbul. The lead character is a eunuch, Yashim, who is able to move freely between the Sultan's court, the European diplomatic community and the streets of Istanbul. His position as a knowledgeable and discerning outsider gives Yashim certain advantages in solving crimes, or at least in anticipating the chaos that they will create. Goodwin has created a complex lead character who functions in several different environments with his own angst, friendships and desires. All of Goodwin's other characters live in Yashim's shadow.
Yashim's life and times offer a set of good premises for a murder mystery series. Less than one century is left for Ottoman rule and modern nationalism is developing in Europe and spreading with new social relationships conditioned by rapidly emerging industrial capitalism. Some classes and individuals are stuck in the past while others are shaping the future. A complex character who moves between communities and classes in a time of approaching social crisis could engage readers. Goodwin and his characters never rise to that point of interest and engagement.
The problem is that Goodwin is an Orientalist of almost the worst sort. In the 19th century, if not before, some in the west showed an unsavory and pornographic interest in Ottoman society and produced pornography which tells us more about their twisted minds than about Ottoman society. Production of this pornography continued well into the 20th century. Goodwin continues on with this tradition. What are we to think when we read of Yashim making love with the wife of a Russian diplomat and she saying, "So take me, Turk!" and worse in Goodwin's The Janissary Tree?
Moreover, Goodwin is a lazy historian. He doesn't bother to grasp the complexity of relations existing between, say, Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and others in the Ottoman Empire. He doesn't grasp the finer points of Syriac and Greek Orthodox theology or the mysticism of the Sufis. He doesn't understand Pan-Slavism and gives it a social role in his novels well before it developed. This laziness gives many of his characters flat, one-dimensional personalities that we recognize from modern spy novels and movies.
Goodwin also seems to have nothing good to say about the Greeks and never questions the economic or political viability of the Empire, based as it was on the subjugation of so many disparate peoples. In a typical passage in Goodwin's novels a Greek will say, "What you comes so late in the day, eh? Buying this old shit! Yous an old lady? Yous keeping rabbits now? I puts everything away." Greek independence is seen as a disaster and as the result of a conspiracy between other governments. No other national group is so disparaged in Goodwin's writing. The books also manage to insult Islam and the sense of time in Ottoman society by giving western dates and years instead of marking time and events with the Islamic calendar. Islamic theology is glossed over.
Goodwin gives to some of his characters the stereotyped voices and motives of the English working class. A Turkish watchman answers a question with, "Warm and bright, mate." A Turkish grocer uses a thumbs-up sign. A prostitute says, "All right, petal? Here's your kit. Shove it on, love, I'm done. Go on." The reader might wait for someone to turn on the tv or ask about Paris Hilton next.
This is not only bad writing and laziness. Capitalism holds its power to some extent because it convinces us that there are no alternatives and that human nature rebels against anything other than competition. It rewrites the past with its own unique concept of human nature so that past and the present always look remarkably similar and the future only offers more of the same. Goodwin and his Orientalism are complicit in this to the extent that they paint over another epoch and another society with the peculiar relations and sensibilities of the present. Ottoman society still offers us much to explore and learn from, and murder mysteries can be fun ways to stretch the mind and the imagination, but Goodwin and Orientalism fall far short here and don't satisfy.
November 26, 2008
Amin Maalouf has written in Origins (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, 404 pages, $26)an account of four generations of his family's history. This is also a story of Arab and Lebanese identity and emigration. As such, it holds a part of modern Lebanon's history and a plea for cultural diversity and peaceful coexistence in its pages. Maalouf is a skilled writer and an intellectual who has made his plea for respecting the world's diversity based on our shared and complex histories his life's work.
"Barely a hundred years ago," Maalouf writes, "Lebanese Christians readily proclaimed themselves Syrian, Syrians looked to Mecca for a king, Jews in the Holy Land called themselves Palestinian...and my grandfather Botros liked to think of himself as an Ottoman citizen. None of the present-day Middle Eastern states existed, and even the term 'Middle East' hadn't yet been invented. The commonly used term was 'Asian Turkey.'Since then, scores of people have died for allegedly eternal homelands, and many more will die tomorrow." This short passage occurs at the book's halfway point and the author could stop here, his point having been made. We are fortunate that he continues on with the story of his family and other similar observations.
The author's family spread from "The Lebanon" to Europe, the Americas and Australia. Maalouf's enigmatic grandfather, Botros, remained at home in order to fulfill his familial responsibilities and also in order to have some role in crafting an independent country. At times he remained at home as much out of spite as out of love, it seems. The family experienced great losses and divisions wherever family members settled and much of the book revolves around how Maalouf has been affected by this as he seeks to better understand himself and others. What stops this book from becoming merely one man's search for his identity and roots is the author's mixing of historical fact with family legends and his self-conscious push, articulated in the first pages of the book, beyond nationalism and identity politics. Maalouf is holding up a mirror, but in it we see ourselves as well as the author.
Maalouf is a humanist and he reminds his readers that he comes to his humanism through a family and a nation divided along barely-forgiving confessional and political lines. Rarely in his books will the reader feel that she is being preached at, although there is this constant reminder of the author's origins and world view. Much of Maalouf's argument is against fanaticism, particularly religious fanaticism, but in Origins he seems to finally fold in the face of it within his own family. He can be sentimental, but it is difficult to imagine anyone writing a family history without sentimentalism and nostalgia. He is more evocative than nostalgic or sentimental in any case. Maalouf also maintains a petty-bourgeois intellectual's studied skepticism of revolutionary movements and governments even when the reality before him contradicts this skepticism.
It is Maalouf's tremendous ability to put people and events in historical perspective, and then to forgive, which wins the reader over. There is no vanity in his analysis or forgiveness. Moreover, Maalouf is so anti-dogmatic that even his humanism provides a basis for self-criticism and critique by others. Maalouf is at his best when he pushes this forward with full-throttled eloquence and through good story-telling and it is then that he steps somewhere beyond his class position and towards a more revolutionary humanism.
This is not a book that the left should ignore. Maalouf's reading of history and his intellectual fight for diversity, free expression and self-determination in the face of globalization should not be left to the liberals. We should take up Maalouf's challenges to be better thinkers and better people in light of our historical experiences.
By Carl Bloice
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
Let’s say you retired from your job some time over the past ten years or so and when you did you had about as much as, or maybe a little less than, what Governor Palin spent on her campaign outfit in your 401k- retirement account. First thing you did was roll it into an IRA. Right now you take a stiff drink before opening your monthly statement because you know your nest egg will have shrunk appreciably and if it keeps up at this rate you won’t be able to replace your 501s when they start to fall apart. A lot has been written and said about the pre-retirement baby boomers and their incredibly shrinking 401s but little about the pre-boomers who once thought they would move comfortably into their sunset years, well placed to replace their hearing aids and glasses and still have a little to spend on vacation. For many of them the situation is looking increasingly grim.
A little over 12 percent of the country’s population is 65 and over;58 percent of them are women. Of course, many of them don’t have concerns about retirement accounts. Some are well to do without them but a much larger group of retired workers are solely dependent on Social Security and Medicare to survive.
That’s not to say that the position of those born after 1946 isn’t precarious. I got an email from a distressed boomer the other day saying she lost $10,000 in September. That same day, at a union hall, a steelworker retiree in Ohio told BBC-TV he had lost 37 percent of his retirement money over the same month.
“Retirement and financial experts now predict that retirees and older workers who rely on financial investments for retirement income may suffer more than any portion of the American population in the coming years,” Rep. George Miller (D-Ca.) told a recent Congressional hearing. “Unlike Wall Street executives, American families don't have a golden parachute to fall back on. It's clear that their retirement security may be one of the greatest casualties of this financial crisis. The current financial and housing crises are stripping wealth from American families at a record rate.”
Experts testifying at an October 7th hearing before House Education and Labor Committee, which Miller heads, said U.S. workers have lost as much as $2 trillion in retirement savings over the past year.
“In the last few weeks, we’ve been confronted with older worker and retirees’ lives being turned upside down; their panic tops off an already existing state of chronic anxiety about retirement futures,” Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at The New School for Social Research, told the hearing.
The home mortgage crisis is making things worse. One of the reasons working people jumped into the housing market so eagerly during the “bubble” was that home ownership was touted as a more profitable way of saving for the future than putting your money in the bank. For a while it seemed to be true. That is, until the illusion was shattered and it all fell apart.
A recent study, “The Impact of the Housing Crash on Family Wealth,” analyzed the finances of families headed by people between the ages of 45 and 54 in 2004 and projected the wealth of families headed by people who will be in this age group in 2009 and found that even if real house prices remain what they are today most of these families will have little or no housing wealth in 2009. “This extraordinary
destruction of wealth will have tremendous implications for millions of families as they enter retirement,” said report co-author Dean Baker. “Coupled with a very low personal savings rate, this means that many people will only have Social Security and Medicare to rely on in their retirement.”
Rep. Miller cited a recent poll that revealed 63 percent of the people in the country are worried that they will not have enough savings for their retirement. “Tragically, they may very well be right. Due to the collapse of the housing market and the financial crisis, trillions of dollars that Americans were counting on has been lost,” said Miller. “Americans were counting on much of this wealth for their retirement. Now it is gone - as is their ability to adequately fund their retirement.”
Or, for retirees to hang on to what they have salted away from their earnings or invested in their homes over the years.
Needless to say, meaningful action to arrest the wave of massive home foreclosures and ensure most people can remain in their homes would help greatly to alleviate the effects of the growing retirement funding crisis. House prices can be expect to continue to decline for some time, however, and the guarantee of a place to live would offset some of the precariousness brought on by the steady undermining of
Keep in mind the retirement fund checks those who have left the labor market receive each month are not entitlements. These are from 401k plans they were assured would leave them in a better position on leaving the workforce than the traditional pension plans employers have jettisoned with abandon over recent years.
“The current financial crisis has certainly highlighted the fact that 401(k) participants - whose 401(k) account represent their sole retirement savings-bear all the investment risk,” said Jerry Bramlett, CEO of BenefitStreet, Inc., an independent retirement plan administration firm. “The pain is particularly acute for those participants closer to retirement whose retirement income expectations have been significantly impaired possibly resulting in the need to postpone retirement.”
The newspapers and the airwaves are full of advice to people caught up in the retirement security crisis. It’s pretty much what financial advisers and benefit managers are telling folks all over the country:don’t sell, don’t leave the market, if you move your money to a place that may be more secure - but with lower rates of return - you will lock yourselves into the lower rate. How long it will take until the economy heals range anywhere from two to 10 years. That’s when it bottoms out and starts to improve. As one forward-looking retiree recently pointed out, the stock market recovered fully 25 years after the 1929 crash that heralded the Great Depression. The Dow Jones average didn’t return to pre-1929 levels until 1954. The reaction of some of today’s retirees is quite understandable: I should live so long.
Scanning the special media reports on retirement security and the advice being offered up for coping with the crisis there is one reoccurring theme: a lot of people have decided they cannot afford to retire and thus plan to–or wish to–remain on the job into their 70s. The problem is employers are more apt to lay off older workers before they retire because they are the most costly. But the reports seldom indicate fully why this is so. It is not just because they have been around long enough to receive wage raises. The employers can be expected to replace them with younger workers offering new hires fewer benefits, including retirement provisions. As unemployment rises they will have little problem doing so.
World capitalism is in crisis. There is going to be widespread deprivation and little illustrates the inequities of the system better than the differing prospects between those who have worked hard and saved as they were told to and those who can expect to feel none of the pain. Michael Winship, senior writer for Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, says a look at the recent financial sector bailout activity reveals that “The fat cats at the top had nothing to worry their pretty little whiskers about. Not only have most of their businesses been saved, for now at least, but they’ve already been pretty successful at protecting their high-rolling lifestyles, and finding bailout loopholes that allow them to keep hauling in the big bucks.”
By soon after these words are read, the county will have a new President-elect. A lot of hope is being placed in the community organizer dude from Chicago. Surely he is acquainted with the insecurity that plagues working people today in the face of jobs disappearing, homes being lost and retirement savings being decimated. It is not enough to merely hope that those assuming leadership will act with speed and vigor to rescue those affected, at least equal to that Washington has shown for the big banks and insurance companies. It won’t happen automatically. Working class families and individuals and the communities in which they live will have to insist upon it.
November 24, 2008
What follows is a press release from the European Roma Information Office and coverage of a recent riot.
The racist attack occurred today in the Czech Republic is just the last one of a series of anti-Gypsy episodes alarmingly spreading across the European Union in the last months. After Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Italy and Spain, now it is in Litvinov (a northern Czech town) where extreme right groups openly attack Roma communities.
Today, more than 500 persons from the extreme right Workers Party tried to assault a Roma neighbourhood but about 1000 policemen blocked their way. This attempt happened during a march whose route was abruptly diverted in order to attack the Roma neighbourhood with stones, batons and petrol bombs. Seven police officers were injured by the clashes.
It is unacceptable that similar events occur in today’s European Union, whose Member States are supposed to be homeland of human rights and minority protection. That’s why we are calling once again on the European institutions to set up an EU wide strategy for Roma protection and inclusion in the main society. “Nowadays – stated Ivan Ivanov, ERIO’s Executive Director – every country can decide on its own how to deal with the Roma issue, following its own model. But those violent attacks against Roma show once again that it is high time for the European Union to deploy a strong European Roma policy, so every Member State can provide the Roma community with the same guarantees of protection and respect of their fundamental rights. We hope that the Czech Republic, a country where a solution for the Roma issue is urgently needed, will do its best during its EU presidency in the first semester of 2009 to push for a Europe-wide strategy to counter racism and discrimination against Roma”.
See video from the riots and the story on BBC news here.
For further inquiries, please contact ERIO’s Executive Director: Ivan Ivanov, +32/473/823887.
Visit our website: www.erionet.org.
November 23, 2008
by John Rummel
The Big Three auto companies may not like unions, consumers,environmentalists and the government having input into how their business is run, but with sales at a 25-year low, they would be in a much better position if they did.
General Motors is said to be facing bankruptcy. That would have large repercussions for the U.S. economy, particularly for the workers involved, and that's no small number: The grand total of jobs directly and indirectly created by auto manufacturing has been estimated between 5 and 8 million.
A loan to retool the companies to make energy-efficient cars gained congressional approval in September. It made good sense. Now larger loans are being considered. But they should only be provided if more stakeholders are brought to the decision-making table. Until now, a handful of owners have been disastrously guiding this core American industry.
In fact, what the auto companies’ bailout request shows is the need for more public input and control over the direction of industries that have such a large impact on our nation and world. If that had taken place with the auto industry 30 years ago, we likely wouldn't be in the position we are today. Government regulation has made GM and Ford successful — in Europe!
In the 1970s, after the oil embargo, with gasoline rationed and prices rising, U.S. auto companies finally started producing smaller cars. But as gas prices fell, they went back to making bigger cars and then began producing the SUV, whose size both foreign and domestic makers have continued to expand. They claim they were just building what the public demanded, but wasn't it the quick profits they reaped from selling heavily marketed, gas-guzzling SUVs that really dictated their decisions?
This gets to the heart of the problem.
Ignoring the harmful effects on the environment, they lobbied to waive or lower fuel economy standards for SUVs and trucks. The U.S. and Canada have the lowest fleet-average fuel economy standards and the highest greenhouse gas emission rates among “first world” nations. And the companies ignored the interests of autoworkers by shopping their jobs around the world to the lowest bidders.
The United Auto Workers union feels any additional loans should guarantee its recently negotiated retiree health care fund, and who can blame them? It’s a necessary ingredient, though we must also move toward guaranteeing health care and a decent retirement for all.
But fundamentally, even if gas prices remain low — and that’s doubtful— our economy and our planet require us to move away from reliance on oil, towards alternative energy sources and mass transit. Al Gore has drawn the link between restoring manufacturing jobs and urgent action to prevent global environmental catastrophe. In a New York Times op ed last week, outlining a plan to get all our energy from carbon-free sources in 10 years, Gore wrote,"We should help America's automobile industry...convert quickly to plug-in hybrids" that can run on renewable electricity available from a nationwide grid he foresees being built.
Gore argues that a major jobs-intensive infrastructure initiative is the best way to revive our economy quickly and sustainably. That goes against the grain of capitalism’s profits-before-people approach. Can the decisions required to rebuild our country, save auto and other manufacturing jobs and stop global warming be solely left to the CEOs? Doesn’t real democracy require the public to have a say in how our money is spent?
Any auto industry bailout must prioritize the twin goals of restoring manufacturing jobs and greening our economy.
In the national interest, any loans to the Big Three need to include requirements such as: 1) this money be used to develop and produce energy-efficient and alternative energy vehicles here in the U.S.; 2)Parts going into these vehicles be 70 percent or more U.S.-made; 3)priority be given to states with high unemployment where the workforce has long experience in the industry; 4) establishment of a "corporate responsibility board" with labor, consumer, community and government
John Rummel (MichiganPWW@gmail.com) writes frequently for the People’s Weekly World and is the Michigan organizer for the Communist Party USA.
November 20, 2008
Something like 54 per cent of Catholics voted for Obama. In many states this surge was led by Latino/as. The push from Donohue and the Catholic right risks permanently alienating the youth and people of color in the Catholic Church.
This push from the Catholic right is vaguely reminiscent of the Republican cave-in just before the elections. We see in both cases right wing leaders using hot rhetoric not supported by facts and this rhetoric increasing in tone and temper as their support at the base diminishes. Attention has turned instead to the economic crisis, ending the war, environmental problems and dealing with racism. The Church hierarchy is not leading in providing solutions in these key areas while rank-and-file parishioners are looking for help.
In this current dangerous rerun from the Catholic right we're hearing some church leaders say that they will close Catholic hospitals before they will allow these hospitals to perform abortions. The church hierarchy is distorting the record by claiming that the Obama administration will either force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or deny them all federal funding. This has the effect of causing poor and working class communities dependent upon Catholic hospitals to panic. It also exposes some of the hypocrisy built into how the church hierarchy views the hospitals: they most often refuse to intervene when workers in these hospitals try to unionize, claiming that they cannot affect labor relations policies at the hospitals, but they're talking about closing entire healthcare systems as they protest a non-existent abortion policy. It will be sadly ironic if Catholic healthcare systems are largely left out of plans for universal or national healthcare.
As a Catholic I protest Donohue's media-grabbing agitation and the Catholic right reaction to Obama's victory and the movement that made this victory possible.
From a labor point of view, it must be hard being United Auto Workers (UAW) president Ron Gettelfinger. It looks like the auto makers brought him along as an afterthought in their first public round of lobbying for a bailout. A predictable attack on Gettelfinger and UAW members came from the far right and was then joined by some of Gettelfinger's presumed liberal allies like Robert Reich. Reich went to some trouble to say that his views are his own, but his roles in the Clinton administration and in liberal circles make us wonder to what extent his views are shared by incoming Obama administration policy makers and advisers.
After that first public round, Gettelfinger seemed to take a backseat or to disappear completely from lobbying efforts. The media referred to him by his position, but not by name, or ignored him and the UAW completely. Only after the auto makers showed up in Washington without a plan detailing what they need did Gettelfinger get back in the picture. This arrogance on the auto maker's part is matched by their presumption that Gettelfinger and UAW members will be there for them come hell or high water.
In the meantime, of course, the attack from the right has spread, the industry is pointing at the union and the workers as the problem and foreign-owned companies with factories in the south are beginning to lobby against any bailout. Gettelfinger is reduced to pleading for worker healthcare and benefits and the weak contracts the union signed in the last Big Three negotiations. The industry scored $25 billion for retooling but now even that money is back on the table for renegotiation.
Lo and behold, it turns out that Toyota only has something like a $260 per-vehicle advantage over the American companies on American-made cars and in two or three years American and foreign-owned auto companies with plants in the US will have about-equal wage and benefit packages. No doubt wages will rise slightly in the non-union sector, but I believe that this has more to do with weakened UAW contracts. The right has been quite successful in building the myth of highly-paid union workers resistant to change and holding on to privileges in the face of progress and market forces.
What is at stake here is the widespread outsourcing and contracting out that the non-union foreign-owned companies do in the south and the "flexibility" this gives them in hiring and laying off people and avoiding the union. Most foreign auto manufacturers with plants in the US have been laying workers off and closing or cutting back plants in recent months without much negative impact on profits. Capitalism shows its real stupidity when these closed plants are mothballed and workers thrown overboard while competitors open new plants and train new workers in the same regions.
At some level, then, the fight over the auto industry bailout is a fight over capital's ability to behave stupidly. A section of multinational capital wants to maintain and extend its ability to outsource, contract out and move around the globe freely and without planning or social responsibility. The companies all want our tax dollars to finance this stupidity but are also competing with one another for that money and in the marketplace. It is not hard to argue that it should make no difference to workers and taxpayers whether companies are American-owned or foreign-owned when it comes to fleecing us. If industry wins this fight without compromise workers everywhere in the world lose. Contracting out, outsourcing, rewriting union contracts by legislative action, right-to-work laws and having taxpayers pick up the bill for multinationals will become more widespread. A win by the auto companies will also help the right and set back the movement that elected President Obama.
I believe that the foreign-owned companies do have some practical advantages over American-owned companies which need to be looked at before anyone raises the issue of UAW members giving up still more wages, benefits and healthcare. Foreign-owned companies can produce several different models on the same assembly lines and can retool a plant more quickly than American-owned companies can. Let's give capitalism credit here for establishing an almost immediate link between consumer demand and production.
But where did these companies get this expertise from? No doubt some of it came with them from Japan, Korea and Germany as they built plants in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. But much of it is also the results of state and regional subsidies--taxpayer money--given to the automakers to lure them into the non-union south. The reactionary southern politicians who offered the money and closed the deals with the manufacturers are now leading the charge against any bailout of the American-owned companies. Bush could act affirmatively in this situation but is unlikely to do so. The Republicans can afford to let this crisis deepen in the hopes of regaining lost ground in two years.
November 19, 2008
Randi Weingarten,president of the American Federation of Teachers, has publicly offered a "first step" from the union in talking about changing union work rules, seniority and merit pay. These issues may be raised by the union in contract negotiations or in legislative and lobbying efforts and this forms part of the union's approach to the economic crisis and the incoming administration.
The relatively liberal or progressive Campaign for America's Future has brought together AFL-CIO leaders, leading and ascending Democrats and a representative of the US Chamber of Commerce to talk about a renewed push to fund infrastructure investment and development. One of the arguments for pushing Obama's administration on funding large-scale infrastructure projects in its early days is that this can be built as a massive public works project at a time when so many people are losing jobs and liberals talk seriously about having to save capitalism from itself.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) received from Obama strong assurances before the election that the federal agencies they represent will be working with tougher regulations and better administrators under the new administration than they were under Bush. This should cover environmental and clean air policies, family leave issues, workplace safety and consumer rights if Obama is good for his word. AFGE and SEIU have been especially proactive in the transitional process and AFGE is publicly making its case for reversing the damage done by Bush in the agencies that that union represents. The union is also backing Linda Chavez-Thompson of the AFL-CIO for the Labor Secretary position just as Rich Trumka, now an AFL-CIO leader and formerly with the Mineworkers' union (UMWA), is also being mentioned for the post in competition with Stern. In fact, AFGE seems to be giving the impression that they are already accomplishing more for mine safety than the UMWA is.
Regardless of who is pushing change at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, both AFGE and the UMWA seem on their ways to a collision with the National Mining Association. The NMA has been an especially reactionary force and it will take a major united effort that no single union can afford to win against them.
I think that these four current examples of how labor leaders are trying to define their relationship to the new administration are noteworthy. Whatever her intentions, AFT president Weingarten's remarks are being taken by the media and policy wonks as an offer for union concessions in key areas and her remarks seem to have caught the National Education Association and many in the AFT off-guard. The push for long-term and national infrastructure repair and development as a public works project makes great sense, but I am not sure that the Chamber of Commerce or the contractors and transportation monopolies can be counted as true friends in the effort. It seems more likely that they will use us to get a few key projects underway and then continue to work against prevailing wage laws and union apprenticeship, closed shop and hiring hall systems. AFGE and SEIU seem to be making good progress while competition for filling the Labor Secretry job could disrupt or set back needed labor unity. This lack of unity between unions now means that we're fighting separately for sectoral or jurisdictional interests and risking taking hits in important areas because agendas conflict or do not have needed support. The temptation to concede something now in the hope of future gains for each union's membership in this situation will be very strong for union leaders.
November 16, 2008
I have suspected all along that the oil and gas industries were engaging in massive speculation and trying to centralize capital and operations and that this is what accounted for higher prices at the pump. Like the banks and other financial institutions, the oil and gas companies were essentially on strike against society, demanding with higher prices what they could not win in Congress--deregulation, more drilling, exemption from already-too-weak environmental standards, intervention in Venezuela and Russia in order to capture other markets, long-term leases or ownership of reserves in the mideast and the ability to swallow up competitors.
Exxon Mobil is saying this week that they will make money whether pump prices are high or low. This is a one-hundred-and-twenty-six year old company, the world's largest corporation, and probably the most profitable US company by all standards. They are not budging from their position that their industry is the key driver of all economic progress. Despite what voters say and scientists and environmentalists show and predict, Exxon Mobil intends to keep mining, drilling and refining and putting their competition out of business. Their profit margin remains the best in the business. Only recently did the company back away from funding groups that argue that climate change is a myth. Company leaders say that they are not especially interested in renewable and alternate fuels or research and development in these areas, despite a few starts here. If the company can't maintain its profit margin in the developed world, the company says that it is positioned to intervene in the world's rising economies between now and 2030.
So it turns out that my worst suspicions were correct.
Why did pump prices drop? The damage to credit markets, the outcome of the elections, the refusals by the Russians and Venezuelans to give more and the market power of the largest oil and gas companies finally limited speculation to a smaller and wealthier number of companies. Exxon Mobil and the economists reporting on the company this week essentially agree on this.
Wholesale energy prices also dropped overall in October but these price drop did not make it to he consumer. This is also a form of speculation. Your electric, gas or oil bill didn't drop in October or November.
I do not expect prices to stay low or to drop much further.
Marcelo Lucero, the man who was killed, had lived in the US for at least 16 years. He was 37 years old, worked in a dry cleaning shop and sent money home to help his mother, a cancer survivor. His younger brother also works in the area and seems lost without Marcelo's guidance. Remarkably, he has been quoted as saying that he forgives the young men who murdered his brother.
Media coverage of the attack and the arrests makes the matter seem as if it was a gang mugging by a group of bored kids gone wrong and focuses on the growth of the Spanish-speaking population and the supposed presence of a large number of undocumented workers in Suffolk County. The effect of this slanted coverage is to blame the victims--the Spanish-speaking workers who come looking for needed work--and to move the focus off of the murder itself. The story of a gang of kids killing an unarmed immigrant worker for racist kicks is becoming a story of suburban boredom, demographics and misbehaving immigrant day laborers who supposedly break Suffolk County's social codes as they look for work.
Marcelo Lucero was not a day laborer. The kids who killed him did not compete with day laborers for work. It seems unlikely that he was undocumented, as if that should matter. The predictable claim that the athlete who allegedly stabbed Marcelo Lucero has Black and Hispanic friends has a hollow ring to it and is beside the point in any case. Other complex influences were at work which led to this murder. One of the defendants is Black with a Puerto Rican heritage. His family has been the target of racist attacks in the past. The presence of this young man at the murder does not detract from the racist nature of the attack itself and does not add a dramatic or tragic flourish to the murder, despite what the media says.
Similar demographic and racist conditions exist here in Salem and across much of Oregon. Racist hate radio and the presence of hate groups like the Minute Men are working to create a climate in which incidents such as the murder in Suffolk County might occur here as well.
That priest has been rebuked by the administrator of the Diocese of Charleston. Since this incident also made national news, the rebuke is an important event which should help people move forward and not lose hope. It should be understood in the context of the Catholic majority who changed sides to vote for Obama and, I hope, as part of a gathering momentum which can help defend Fr. Roy and help build his antiwar and anti-imperialist work. It should also be understood in the context of the step towards the center and left that many people in the US are taking. We would be naive to believe that such a step would only be political and economic; it will have anti-racist, religious and cultural implications which go far beyond what might be expected. Whether Obama and the Democrats approve or not, a small revolution in thinking and doing is being unleashed.
November 15, 2008
A long lost memoir of an American "premature anti-fascist" in the Spanish civil war will be discussed by its editors Friday, Nov. 21 at Powell's flagship Portland store, 1005 W. Burnside at 7:30PM. It's "War is Beautiful" by poet James Neugass, an Abraham Lincoln Brigade ambulance driver and edited by Stanford historian Peter Carrroll and Peter Glazer. Carroll is also director of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, which co-sponsored its publication. Library Journal honored the book as one of its editors' "Fall Picks."
At least eleven Lincoln vets from Oregon are listed in my Portland Red Guide (pp. 110-111). Virginia Malbin, a social worker who assisted Lincoln Brigade fighters in Barcelona during the war and later moved to Portland,hopes to attend.
Both Obama and McCain recently cited Robert Jordan,the leftist Lincoln Brigade fighter Hemingway created in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," as one of their main heroes.
Visit Michael's website at www.michaelmunk.com.
November 13, 2008
Kavaja was best known for his role in a Chicago bombing in 1978 and for hijacking an airplane in 1979. For all of his murders, terrorism and outrages he served only 20 years in US prisons.
Kavaja was recruited into the CIA after conducting anti-Yugoslav activities as part of an underground organization inside Yugoslavia. That group took advantage of the split between Socialist Yugoslavia and the USSR to push its agenda through violent means. Kavaja was arrested in Yugoslavia and escaped and was then hired by the CIA to conduct further operations against Yugoslav citizens and diplomats and against Tito. He attempted to assassinate Tito four times, once while Tito was visiting Nixon in the US in 1971.
Kavaja's career illustrates the recurrent tendency of the CIA to recruit crazies and put them on the payroll in order to carry out Agency objectives and its own agendas. The Agency took advantage of divisions between socialist countries and religious differences and prejudices in order to further its aims. They played anti-communist Serbs against anti-communist Croats, using both and so eventually helping to ignite the civil war that finally killed Yugoslavia. Kavaja no doubt killed people in several countries, the US included, and he was able to leave the US and return to Serbia while still on parole without much problem. Clearly his work for the CIA paid off in the end.
To get a better measure of the kind of psychopath Kavaja was, you can read this interview.
Ingrassia is demanding that the auto industry bailout be used to kick top management of the most troubled manufacturers out of the auto industry. In their place, he says, the government should appoint an administrator who would then hire or appoint people from outside of the industry to lead the industry through the crisis and towards recovery. A necessary step towards recovery would be tearing up the union contract and ending union-negotiated work rules and healthcare benefits which do not extend to the non-union auto sector. Most of this non-union sector is based in the south and is dominated by overseas manufacturers doing business here.Ingrassia trusts the market to force the manufacturers to develop hybrids and gas-savers on their own, so there is nothing in his plan which would require changes in product or production beyond busting the union.
We think of this as corporatism, but that may be too generous. Traditional corporatism included the government, the capitalists and some kind of weak labor or worker representation with the state settling all conflicts. Speculation was discouraged, loyalty to the country and to industry were required, production was oriented towards national or regional markets and workers received just enough to keep us working and in line. An extension of that system existed in Mussolini's Italy briefly and in Franco's Spain.
Ingrassia's corporatism throws us overboard and remains oriented towards globalized international markets. It puts now-unionized workers in direct competition with non-union workers and sets the goal as the lowest possible standards. His interview with NPR comes as Bush is making "a vigorous defense of free-market capitalism and easier global trade," says MSNBC. Bush's shout-out to global leaders is intended to construct the debate about the world financial crisis around how to best strengthen capitalist free-market globalization. Ingrassia is helping by staking out what seems to us to be an extremely reactionary position. Why, after all, should workers compete for lower standards and what prevents this competition from going fully global?
Ingrassia and Bush are no doubt reacting to widespread calls during the election for sanctions against companies which export jobs. In this context, the Democrats are playing a defensive strategy by backing an auto industry bailout with requirements that the industry build better and more fuel-efficient cars and leaving the industry's structure otherwise untouched. If the Obama administration adopts for the auto industry what Ingrassia and Bush are advocating the new administration will effectively be coming into office with another PATCO on their hands. The UAW would not strike, of course, but the union would be effectively busted.
The differences between Ingrassia's corporatism and our socialism should be clear enough. Yes, we say, kick management out and put the industry under some kind of social control. Use money and political leverage to do this. But we also say that the real experts in the auto industry--the workers--should take control of the industry eventually, appoint or elect management as needed and maintain and extend stronger union contracts nationally and globally so that we are competing for the best and most fulfilling working conditions and benefits possible.
But socialism is not on the agenda or up for debate here. The Democrats were elected in part to lead in saving jobs and the environment and breaking with the worst aspects of globalization. We need them to take a strong position against what Ingrassia and Bush are advocating.
November 12, 2008
Well, if we’re going to do “problems with Marxism,” I suppose I ought to chime in. One of the primary issues with Marxism is a hesitation when it comes to self-examination and self-criticism. Indeed, it could be argued that this very issue was a primary cause for the fall of the USSR. In terms of present-day Marxism, this hesitancy can be seen in the fact that the CPUSA has only “we are looking into it” to say about the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe, and in the willingness to focus on analysis of current events, rather than the sharpening of our ideology. It must be acknowledged that some of the hesitation is perfectly normal and healthy; the need for revolutionary optimism is vital and communists have had far too many factional fights over the years, especially in the US. However, ideology occupies a special place for communists. We do not subscribe to the anti-ideological notions of liberal “objectivity,” which in reality is a cloak for pro-capitalist ideology as Michael Parenti has so brilliantly demonstrated time and again. Communists recognize the need for a pro-worker, pro-equality, pro-justice, pro-democracy etc, etc ideology that is both coherent enough to provide the basis for sound arguments and flexible enough to adapt to historical change. There are, sadly, two tendencies within Marxism which make the attainment of this ideal extraordinarily difficult. The first is the ultra-left tendency to present Marxism as orthodox, complete and unalterable. To the ultra-leftist, Marxism need not adapt for it is already a perfect ideology; anything which deviates from the ultra-leftist notions of Marxism, or seeks concessions to other ideologies, however temporary, is labeled “revisionism” or “opportunism.” It is the ultra-leftist tendency which leads to the ideological warfare which plagues US communism. The second is the rightist, or opportunist tendency. The rightist downplays the role of ideology, and seeks to make ideological concessions in the hope of making a quick advance for socialism. This is the tendency which seems to be afflicting the CPUSA currently. In addition to the issue of the Soviet Union, the Party leadership manifests an unbridled joy at the prospect of an Obama Presidency, which is not necessarily such a bad thing in itself, yet the recent National Board meeting counseled even more CP support for the Democrats, despite the fact that such a strategy has historically been shown to be unworkable and potentially disastrous. In the Party press, particularly in the People’s Weekly World we find an unwillingness to even mention Marxism or communism, or even socialism; Party Chairman Sam Webb is never referred to as such, only as “Sam Webb;” Political Affairs is little better and has taken to running articles from left-liberal periodicals, which again, would not be so bad except that a disturbing number of these articles seem to be devoted to which “green” product the reader should buy. Ideological debate is confined to the PA Editors blog, the link to which is barely visible on the PA homepage, even to one who is actively searching for it. We ought to remember that socialism does not grow; it is built by the proletariat and the vanguard Party. If we cannot examine past errors and failures of socialism, if we cannot debate vital ideological questions in an open forum, then the anti-communists are right: the revolution is dead.
One problem is between Marxism and religion. When we first started this blog I did a long series on socialism and Christianity. More recently we blogged about Fr. Roy Bourgeois's visit to Salem and the Russian Orthodox Church in Cuba and Bishop Medaro Gomez. Our point of view has been something along the lines of saying that our fight is with the capitalists and not with God, as Gus Hall once offered.
People on the left run a spectrum from being militant atheists to materialists and humanists to being believers of one sort or another. You cannot write a history of the socialist movement and the civil rights movement in the US without talking about how religion and radical politics have interacted here. Our group has several believers in it.
The Gus Hall Action Club blog takes a much dimmer view of religion than we do. And Sunsara Taylor of the ultra-left Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) is apparently on a speaking tour advertising Bob Avakian's new book Away With All Gods!. The RCP has never been known for being in synch with the times. Now is clearly not the moment for the left to be putting up barriers between ourselves and people moving in our direction. Much of the Catholic, Jewish and Islamic vote and a good part of the evangelical Protestant vote went for Obama and the mass of these voters can be won over to an anti-monopoly struggle which puts people and the environment before corporate profits. What is true in unions, civil rights organizations, the womnen's movement, the gay liberation groups and others is also true in religion--people are there because they are questioning and hoping and so they can be won over to more progressive points of view. A socialist society, moreover, will have as one of its jobs liberating religion from the state and insuring equality between religions and between all people in society.
On October 21, 2008, the Vatican sent a letter to the Maryknoll religious community stating that Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest of 36 years, has 30 days to recant his statement of public support of women's ordination or he will be automatically excommunicated. Maryknoll can be described as progressive. Fr. Bourgeois has been previously mentioned on this blog.
Fr. Bourgeois co-presided and gave the homily during the ordination ceremony of Roman Catholic Womenpriest, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, which took place on August 9 in Lexington, Ky.
The Women's Ordination Conference has initiated a petition, with Roman Catholics Womenpriests and Call to Action as partners, to support Fr. Bourgeois. The petition will be sent to Pope Benedict XVI; the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Pietro Sambi; and Maryknoll Superior General, John Sivalon. The petition can be accessed here.
Please email Erin Saiz Hanna at email@example.com if you are able to help break the silence on women's ordination. We must urge Fr. Roy's superiors to stand in solidarity with him -- like Sr. Joan Chittister's order supported her after the Vatican's instruction to not speak at the first Women's Ordination Worldwide conference in Dublin, Ireland in 2001.
One progressive step needs to follow another in the Catholic Church as a theology of liberation develops here in the US.
November 11, 2008
I didn't expect American Express to become a bank holding company in order to get almost $4 billion in bailout money. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have already done this. GMAC and General Electric's financial subsidy are now considering doing this.
I didn't expect that even a handful of hedge funds would be seeing drastic upswings now or that they would be getting kudos in the US for making money while other hedge funds are refusing to give investors their money back.
I didn't think that Citigroup would continue to try to buy other banks under current conditions, but that is in fact happening. The Treasury Department gave Citigroup $25billion last month. Citigroup is apparently on a let's-not-hurry shopping spree with the money while it may be slipping into serious trouble in Brazil, India, Mexico, Colombia, Japan, Argentina, Turkey and in Europe. Citigroup stands to take big losses even in countries whose economies will expand in 2009 and they are getting paid by the Treasury Department to shop while this happens.
The First World War was a family fight between the extended royal families of Europe gone horribly wrong and came about because of a need by world monopoly capital to reconfigure existing borders and economic and political arrangements. It had nothing to do with making the world safe for democracy or marking the end of all war. It unleashed a level of brutality previously unimaginable: more than 20 million people died in the conflict. The war would have taken place whether or not Gavrilo Princip shot Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in Sarajevo.
From the ashes of this war came a number of revolutions and revolutionary movements which we should also commemorate today as part of our reflection on war and its causes and outcomes. We should also remember those who refused to serve in the war out of conscience or revolutionary zeal, the ones who sabotaged war prodoction and led mass strikes against the war and those countless soldiers and sailors who rebelled and refused to fight on all sides in solidarity with the revolutionary movements. If the First World War is a story of victory and defeat for a few capitalists and nations, it is also a story of a growing international class struggle which experienced its own victories and defeats. Modern anti-colonial struggles certainly have their origins in these times and in these movements as well.
Let's also remember Wesley Everest today. He was lynched by vigilantes in Centralia, Wa. on November 11, 1919 in the midst of a strike wave with revolutionary implications.
In this capitalist society historical events either have an immediate use-value or they are discarded and never taught in any meaningful way. So it is that Armistice Day became Veterans Day and Decoration Day became Memorial Day and all of these days become sales days at the malls. You can grow up, go to college, join a union and never know about the revolutionary movements and the people like Wesley Everest who made so much that is good and enduring possible. Those of us who grew up in the shadows of the two world wars and the red scares that came after both of them are often offended by the commercialization of these days and the historical gloss set over them.
November 10, 2008
Now Andrew Miller, president of Stimson Lumber, is saying in The Oregonian that "Democrats want to save everyone from the ups and downs of capitalism. You can't do that." Miller added that passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) will trigger a depression. He also gave Governor Gregoire in Washington a passing grade and the kind of back-handed compliment that she could probably do well without. Miller is clearly not reading the signs of the times.
Miller might be listening to Oregon Public Broadcasting or National Public Radio for his cues. Both networks seem keen on running blurbs from the American Enterprise Institute on the state of the economy without either questioning the point of view given or presenting an opposing point of view. It looks like the right is getting some help from the media in doing its economics.
The US unemployment rate is at a 14-year high right now and is expected to hit 8% or higher by the end of next year. The US has lost about 1.2 million jobs this year. Retail and hospitality sectors are in deep trouble and so are Ford and GM. Cities like Detroit and Philadelphia are announcing major cutbacks in services. Even Salem will be cutting Saturday bus service next year. Circuit City, Best Buy, Mervyn's and other leading big-box and mall stores are either announcing layoffs and closures or are going into bankruptcy.
And Miller thinks that EFCA will trigger a depression and feels confident enough in his politics and backing to announce this in The Oregonian.
She died in struggle, helping to defeat the mafia in Italy. Her life was a life a life of art, struggle love and victory. She lived to see apartheid defeated and Obama elected.
There will be many obituaries written and accounts given of her great life. She seems to have found her life's fulfilment in helping us understand and leading us to justice and victory. For now the best obituary and account of her life can be found here at Pan African News.
November 8th, 2008
The election of Barack Obama is a resounding repudiation of eight years of Bush administration policies of war, occupation, provocation and aggression, violations of constitutional liberties and civil rights, racism and imperial arrogance, personal and corporate greed, raids on the federal treasury, and massive fraud, mismanagement and waste of national resources.
The election is an historic victory for working people, people of color, the poor, women and youth. It is a victory for our democracy and the Constitution, a victory for tolerance, decency, civility and good will, a victory for peace and international understanding. It is a victory for the very concept of government, itself founded on the practice of community and solidarity.
The Obama campaign was launched and gained momentum based on his pledge to end the war. That was what distinguished Senator Obama from all his primary competitors. The election reaffirms the mandate given to the Congress in the election of 2006, but which the majority in Congress chose to ignore. It is a mandate to end the war and occupation in Iraq, to remove all foreign military forces and mercenaries, bring them all home, and truly care for them when they return.
The election is also a mandate for change - but not just any kind of change - not change that takes us backward or keeps us trapped by the failed corporate agenda. It is a mandate to use the resources now squandered on the military and corporate giveaways to meet human needs: to create meaningful well paid jobs, to end chronic unemployment and poverty, to provide affordable universal healthcare and decent housing, to open the doors to higher education for all who want it regardless of means, to rebuild our failing infrastructure, to end our dependence on oil and develop alternatives that will sustainably serve society as they save our environment.
We celebrate with the rest of the world. We know that great presidents are made by how they meet the challenges they face, and by the movements that press them to do so. Obama's victory was made possible by the labor, peace, women's, civil rights, immigrant rights, civil liberties, environmental, student and youth movements, the movements for gay-lesbian-bisexual- and transgender equality, for universal health care and others.
We agree with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who wrote on the day after the election:
Last night was a time to rejoice, but now it is time to get back to work fighting for working families.
We are responsible for holding our elected leaders to the promises they made and providing public support for the tough legislative choices they will make on our behalf. The first challenge for Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the hundreds of great legislators we helped elect is to address the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Hard-working families are losing jobs, homes, health care, retirement savings and hope. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been committed to rescuing Wall Street, but almost nothing has been done to rescue Main Street. People need help, and they need it now.
But none of the aspirations of working people and the poor will be met, the economic crisis will not be resolved and our nation can never be truly secure so long as our country continues to spend half of every tax dollar on the military and corporations that have enriched themselves based on war and aggression.
We want Barack Obama to be a truly great president. We intend to help him be that by holding him and the Congress accountable to meet the needs of millions who cast their votes inspired by the hope his campaign created and their aspirations for a decent life in a nation at peace.
We know that democracy may be exercised in the voting booth, but the content of democracy is created at the grass roots of society, in neighborhoods and communities, churches and union halls, and in the street. We will educate, agitate and organize for him and the Congress to fulfill the people's mandate for change and to reject once and for all the failed, destructive and exploitative corporate agenda.
It is our continued mobilization and organizing, our continued determination to press for enactment of a people's agenda for change that will give Barack Obama the opportunity to be a great president. We welcome that challenge and commit to meeting it.
Our work begins NOW!
US Labor Against the War
1718 M St, NW #153
Washington DC 20036
November 9, 2008
Ford and GM both claim to be on the ropes, or nearly so. GM seems especially in bad shape. The company's cash reserves are low and negotiations over a merger with Chrysler are off.
The auto industry is asking for or demanding a federal bailout. Leading executives in the industry say that they want to restructure and they blame the banks for not helping to pay for this restructuring. Note that this restructuring may or may not involve making more fuel efficient vehicles. No one is talking about reopening closed plants, restoring wage cuts and healthcare to auto workers, backing away from capitalist globalization or pulling auto parts suppliers in line and directly into the industry's horizontal structure. "Restructuring" in this sense means making credit more available to the industry and, in the rhetoric of the industry, helping companies feel "comfortable in (their)liquidity position."
The Bush administration has doubts and these doubts must certainly spring from the failure of the last bailout and GM's dismal position. The industry is looking for government loans or support while sales and share prices drop and cash outflows for the last quarter were spectacularly larger than expected. Workers experience these problems in layoffs and cutbacks and as threats to their industry-provided healthcare and retirement benefits.
Leading Democrats seem less doubtful and more willing to give the industry some part of the $700 billion supposedly destined for the banking industry. Also being discussed are loans possibly amounting to $50 billion, some of which would go to building more fuel efficient vehicles. Chief financial and executive officers from GM and Ford are lobbying for whatever they can get. Ron Gettelfinger, President of the UAW, apparently came along with them to Washington for the ride and in order to ask for funding for auto workers healthcare. This is yet another instance of union leaders and workers' needs being cynically used by industry in a time of crisis. His presence in Washington barely got mentioned in the media. The steep recent rise in auto industry layoffs and the increasing duration of these layoffs has Democrats worried. Obama signaled during his campaign that GM's troubles would be taken seriously by his administration.
To read the AFL-CIO's account of Gettelfinger's work and comments, go here for the story.
Special note: none of the bailout or loan packages being publicly discussed gives government even a silent place at the table with the Big Three. If this bailout goes through, it goes through with even less of a role for government than we got with the banks.
The new Honda Fit shows that low-cost, high-mileage car with all safety features can be produced with high employment levels. Outright government ownership of auto companies or government control of R & D or sharp government oversight of car safety and industry financial practices needs to be seriously discussed here as foreign manufacturers continually turn out better cars than the US does.
Despite the end of merger talks for now between GM and Chrysler, the auto industry internationally continues to centralize. Porsche continues to attempt to take over VW, for instance, and is reporting a relatively high and secure rate of profit. The problem is that Porsche's profits are not coming now from manufacturing or car sales, but from playing with stock sales and hedge funds and its corporate strategies may be illegal under German law. The German left is making international news in its opposition to Porsche's reckless profiteering.
November 8, 2008
Obama made a lame joke about Nancy Reagan and astrology as he fumbled during the press conference. At the close of the press conference he said "Bonjour" as he was leaving. Larson and the other hate radio DJs played part of the fumble, commented on the "Bonjour" and then called Obama a "jerk" and an "idiot" and many other names we could not use on the airwaves to describe Bush, McCain or Palin. They used the occasion to once more encourage military personnel to resign their positions. Reagan remains their president even in death, a bit like Franco remains the caudillo for part of Spain. The parallels seem stunningly accurate to me.
Obama has (needlessly) apologized for the joke. I have not heard hate radio commenting on the apology yet.
What Larson and others didn't give their listeners was a full visual of the press conference. Obama was flanked by American flags and conservative economic advisers. Larson and others also didn't replay the entire blurb from Obama. Their listeners did not hear Obama say that he is rereading Lincoln and that he has also consulted Bush, Sr. for advice unless they also listened to the press conference. Judging from the calls received and put on air, most listeners didn't tune in for the press conference and were predisposed to hate Obama in any case.
The "Bonjour" remark no doubt ticked off hate radio because it is a French word and the French are something beyond suspect in their minds since opposing the American adventure in Iraq or since using their power in the early 1970s to push the US away from the gold standard. Obama was probably fumbling here as well. He had been asked to take a question from a French reporter as he was leaving and he declined to take the question.
Other media did not join in hate radio's attack on Obama and so incurred some wrath and attacks from the right. Missing in all of this has been an analysis of what Obama's developing plans and strategies for dealing with the economic crisis are. Hate radio's loyal callers moved off point with the media and filled the vacuum with talk about guns and gun control.
Gun sales are apparently booming now, making weapons the one luxury item doing well in terms of sales. Semi-automatic sales seem to be doing better than hunting rifles, indicating that we are way beyond the annual bump in sales for hunting season. Hate radio callers say that they expect Obama to take their guns so they're buying heavy now. Small town papers are echoing this fantasy with matching headlines in today's papers. A section of America is arming itself in expectation of a deepening crisis and civil unrest.
No doubt the gun manufacturers and dealers have a hand in this. It is in their immediate economic interest to whip up the pro-gun hysteria and get those headlines in the small town papers. It's not hard to imagine that PR firms have been hired to push the message and increase sales. Lars Larson and the other hate radio DJs are doing their part as well.
November 7, 2008
This is significant for many reasons. A last-minute push by the right for McCain-Palin within the Catholic Church drew some support from the Church's hierarchy while others rejected that push. Rank-and-file Catholics certainly felt bullied by the right when and where they asserted themselves. The organized Catholic left also responded firmly. Pax Christi, a mainstay of the Catholic peace movement, made national news with its antiwar and antiracist work on the eve of the election. Other progressive Catholic groups also spoke out. Fr. Geoffrey Farrow, a gay priest in California, publicly opposed Proposition 8 and gathered around him a group of like-minded faithful.
This progressive activism is paying off in the Catholic press and in the parishes by isolating the right and putting forward a renewed antiracist and antiwar message. We need a united Catholic left, a broad progressive program that reaches deep into the Latino and Anglo parishes and a special emphasis on reaching working class Catholics with a theology of liberation that they can grasp and own.
Now Obama is inheriting a government and the leadership of a country which remind me of urban America in the early or mid-1970s. Unemployment is expected to hit 8 per cent soon and an international economic and financial crisis is underway with no end in sight. The right points to rising labor costs in recent months and mistranslates this as an increase in wages, but all this really seems to indicate is that a significant number of workers are putting in more hours while an even higher number of people are losing their jobs. Only government and healthcare employment are expanding slightly. The people with resources and money have abandoned us, taking real power with them, so it seems like an opportune moment for them to appear to cede power to a Black man.
Nothing is inevitable in this situation either, even if Obama is coming into office under extremely difficult circumstances. The cynicism of the wealthy should not convince us that we have not just won a great victory.
The US Chamber of Commerce seems suddenly anxious to assert themselves. The appointment of Rahm Emmanuel can be read either as a concession to the right or as a logical step for the Democrats to take in order to protect themselves in this transitional period. With some key exceptions, Obama's economic advisers are coming from the right. If the strategy is to appear to concede to the right now as a way of dividing conservative forces, this seems to working. Even with that in mind, however, we should be doing what we can to shift the balance and focus towards the center, which is not unrealistic given labor's role in the transition and the gathering strength of liberal-left forces.
A real debate is also taking place about healthcare. Not just the kinds of plans or types of coverage are being debated, but also when and how healthcare legislation can be raised as an issue without negative interference from the monopolies and the right. Some of the forces close to Obama are hoping that movement on healthcare can be delayed until the new administration has consolidated its power and this may take as long as two years--just in time for the next elections.
We learned in the 1970s that taking power is much more complicated than filling positions with fresh faces and trying to implement promised programs. The old regimes never go gently and their ability to sabotage should not be underestimated. They restlessly await the day when even mild reforms either succeed or crash and burn. In either case they intervene to protect their interests. If the people are prepared a decisive struggle can be waged and won. A lack of unity on the left and in the labor movement, an underestimation by progressive forces of what was at stake and the economic crisis of the mid-1970s prevented us from moving forward with revolutionary energy in those days.
Reporters are pointing out that a majority of counties here went for McCain-Palin while a majority of voters went for Obama-Biden. By my count, 17 counties voted for McCain-Palin and 12 counties voted for Obama-Biden with 7 counties not yet fully reporting. These numbers only tell part of the story, however. The vote was close in many rural counties and it's news when the vote for Obama-Biden in Deschutes County hits 49 per cent. The total rural vote in Oregon did not swing uniformly to the right in all counties, either, as local elections yielded a mixed bag of results.
If the media's point is that Oregon is divided politically, economically and culturally---that isn't news. It's also true of many other states and regions as well, including Appalachia where the Republicans are considered safe and deeply embedded. The news story here is, or should be, growing rural poverty on a national scale, the increasing pace of transformation in many rural areas and the abandonment of sections of rural America by Republicans and the need for a progressive political strategy that builds in these rural areas.
November 6, 2008
Nationally, reports are that the Republican National Committee has sent lawyers to Alaska to help account for funds allegedly misspent by Palin and her campaign. Accusations are surfacing that Palin asked McCain staffers to front purchases for her on their personal credit cards, that incredible amounts were spent by Palin on clothing and that the McCain campaign is upset that Palin took the joke call from someone pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy near the close of the campaign. Besides being a rather stupid blunder that embarassed the Republicans, it finally occured to someone in the McCain camp that Palin's willingness to take the call in the first place signalled Palin's ambitions and her inability to work as a team player.
Leading Republicans are also publicly dividing over the future of the Republican party. An elitist and "intellectual" wing of the party is reacting negatively to Palin and the push that won her the nomination. Some of these leaders have said that they voted for Obama. The ultra-right of the party and Republican hate radio, meanwhile, are criticizing McCain's very coded racist concession speech and are recycling rumors about Obama's citizenship and campaign funding.
It will be regrettable if this meltdown comes down solely to accusations of financial irregularities and Palin's bad behavior. If that happens, we lose the opportunity to debate hard political issues and win over the disaffected people who the Republicans will dump now that the election is over.
The vote on Ballot Measure 64 continues to come in with four counties still counting ballots. It looks like labor has won in beating 64, but the vote is not yet locked in. It's clear that labor had a strong impact with late voters on 64 in the four outstanding counties. There is some weirdness going on with the Clackamas County vote count today.
Marion County has historically swung to the right in elections but went Democratic in recent years. It seems that Marion County swung back in this election.
It also looks like labor picked up 5 or 6 seats in the Oregon House and that the Oregon legislature now as 7 or 8 union members elected in.
Talk about the race for Governor is beginning. Names being mentioned as possible candidates are Greg Walden, Steve Novick, Gordon Smith, Bill Bradbury and Ben Westlund.
November 5, 2008
November 5, 2008
Oregonians Vote No On Measures 58 and 60!
A majority of Oregon voters defeat Sizemore initiatives.
Last night a majority of Oregon voters defeated Measures 58 and 60. The Parents and Teachers Know Better Coalition is thrilled with the results. For a second time in less than a decade, Oregonians have rejected Bill Sizemore's dangerous attacks on Oregon teachers and classrooms.
Oregonians were able to see Sizemore's vague measures for what they really are - poorly written, unpopular ideas that would have had negative consequences for Oregon classrooms.
"Teachers, parents, and school advocates from around the state raised their voices loud and clear on these measures, and voters agreed that decisions about children's education should be made by the people closest to the classroom," said Treasure Mackley, Campaign Manager.
The broad coalition of education organizations and advocates made the victory against Measures 58 and 60 possible. Through the efforts and support from organizations such as Oregon Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, Oregon School Employees Association, Stand for Children and CAUSA, we once again defeated Bill Sizemore's dangerous anti-education initiatives.
Over 30 local school boards passed resolutions opposing Measures 58 and 60 and The Parents and Teachers Know Better Campaign contacted nearly 100,000 voters through volunteer efforts alone to defeat the harmful initiatives.
"The passion of parents, teachers and education advocates fueled this campaign to victory and protected Oregon students from Sizemore's attacks on public education," said Mackley.
This is remarkable. Most of us originally supported Steve Novick. Merkley's campaign red-baited us and it took awhile for fences to mend. Smith ran a campaign which was alternately negative and primarily concerned with putting distance between himself and the Republican establishment. He did his best to glom on to liberal Democrats and stress his distance from the worst of Bush's policies and this alienated the far-right, most notably Oregon's hate radio DJs. Brownlow's intervention took needed votes away without much of a campaign by the Constitution Party. While all of this was going on, Merkley became the antiwar, pro-Obama and tax-cutting candidate and closed his campaign with a series of anti-immigrant hit pieces. He (Merkley)always had well-deserved labor support, but the ads his campaign ran in the closing weeks of the campaign should make us wonder.
Whatever Merkley's sins, Smith's departure--if it really happens--marks the end of a short era, a political machine and the kind of much-fabled "bipartisanship" which covered for Republican Lite.
The Obama win has widened with more vote counting, giving President Obama something like the margins predicted by the media over the weekend. The wider the margin of victory, I think, the greater is the chance that we will see positive a progressive change over the next four years.
Looking over Oregon returns, I'm struck by how safe some pro-labor and progressive seats are. I'm also struck by the damage done by the far-right in some races.
Brownlow and his Constitution Party clearly cost Smith a clear win. The Constitution Party also did major damage to Erickson in the Schrader-Erickson race, even if Schrader had the edge and is a conservative Democrat. The Constitution Party also intervened in the race for State Treasurer in a way which did not help the Republicans.
The Pacific Greens should have shown more sense and remained out of the Secretary of State race. The Working Families Party, the Greens and the Democrats also should have united in the race for Attorney General. We visited quite a few Green households where the vote went to McCain in protest--a dumb move which shows the poverty of "Greenism" and hurts the left. If the WFP is going to continue on, they need be more strategic in their approach and more of an organizing force at the grassroots level.
The Riggs loss to Berger in the 20th District hurts. The Flores loss in the 51st District is cause for great celebration.
It seems likely that Merkley will win and that Measure 64 will be defeated, but wins here are by no means certain yet. The possibility of taking a loss in the Merkley-Smith race and a loss on Measure 64 have so far kept us from fully celebrating. Measure 64, if passed, essentially gags public workers and our unions and plays havoc with the charities, the PTAs and similar groups that use public buildings and some public resources.
More urban voters than rural voters seem to have skipped voting on ballot measures in Oregon this time. The county-by-county polling given on CNN and on Oregon's Secretary of State office website shows a badly divided Oregon. In the main, Sizemore's ballot measures have been defeated but we cannot yet say that this election marks a definitive rejection of Sizemore's efforts or of the ultra-right. Liberal forces here may have achieved something of a sweep, but they also lost some key races.
Oregon is not alone in this. Rossi just conceded in Washington, but it seems possible that we will see replay elections in Georgia and Alaska. Votes against affirmative action and gay rights in several states reminds us that the struggle against racism, sexism and homophobia goes on.
Neither Obama nor Merkley won by the landslide margins predicted in the media. Merkley's win is projected, not yet real. Public pressure by conservative Democrats is already being exerted on Obama with requests or predictions---demands, really---that President Obama name some "centrist" Republicans to leading positions in his administration. Richard Lugar is being suggested as Secretary of Defense by some conservative Democrats, for instance. Right wing hate radio is echoing this call and also urgining mass resignations from the military and government. The public nature of this struggle and its depth and meaning should be taken up as a call to progressives to keep all hands on deck and prepare for accountability campaigns and protests immediately.
November 3, 2008
Four of the top banking and financial services companies probably owe executives more than $42 million in pensions and deferred compensation alone. Since these kinds of companies don't set aside funds for payment, these debts become a drag on the companies and the executives get paid off when they leave. Bankers and banking executives have been on quite a ride for the last several years and enjoy levels of salaries and benefits which are quite high even when compared to executive compensation levels in other sectors of the economy.
Deferred compensation is legal, of course, and capitalist societies do not commonly put lids or limits on what the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois can achieve in terms of compensation. The bailout passed with much opposition and at least some of the details of how this bailout will be structured are still being worked out in the context of the elections and political struggles. People were afraid of just this sort of thing occuring--someone would end up laughing all the way to the bank with our money.Our worst fears seems to be coming true.
The media has been quick to say that our lost pensions and savings didn't really end up in someone else's pockets and that no one has profited from the crisis. In fact, the amounts owed the banking and financial services executives are rough numbers coming from sources such as The Wall Street Journal and it seems unlikely that they won't eventually get the money owed them. That money will come from somewhere--either the money that came out of our accounts or the money held by the government (supposedly our government) or the bailout packages or all three. The increasing speed of centralization in the auto and financial services industries shows that indeed a few people are profiting from the crisis.
November 2, 2008
Evergreen's website says that they are "committed to being defenders of freedom by providing ethical and professional solutions to security challenges. We commit to support national and international policies, as well as our brave military men and women." To underscore this commitment they say that their "contracts include highly sensitive work-scope, and take place in locations ranging from the deserts of the Middle East to the jungles of South America to the highest peaks of Mt. McKinley in Alaska." You can no doubt see Evergreen from Palin's house.
Wiggins is a high-money Oregon Republican and his company has a vested interest in provoking civil disturbances. The company makes its money by shipping weapons to Iraq as a military contractor, gunrunning and contracting out government security services around the world. Rumors have circulated for some time that Evergreen operates as a front for CIA operations. They also operate the aviation museum in McMinnville which houses the Spruce Goose. You can read about Evergreen here.
The idea that ballot drop box sites in Oregon might be patrolled by contracted out security guards working for an alleged CIA front to protect against some non-existent danger should alarm all of us. This probably isn't going to happen, but Wiggins is interfering in our voting process nonetheless.
Last-minute Republicans rumors seem to be spreading in a desperate and silly attempt to throw the election. This is what happens when you don't have politics, unity or support and when the base of your organization is in chaos and demoralized.
The small right-wing crowd that gathers at White's Diner in Salem most mornings is convinced that Obama is set on taking away all American freedoms and decreeing socialism from above as his hidden agenda. I overheard a woman at the South Salem Burger King on Thursday saying that "Obama's right-hand man" is a terrorist "who lives in his housing development and they keep arresting him but they can't pin anything on him or they keep letting him go for some reason." Her friend, a local stripper, is voting for McCain because he opposes gay rights. She said, "Imagine if I took my six year old son to the monkey cage at the zoo--and it's important to remember the monkeys--and we saw two men kissing. Wouldn't that tell him that that was cool? And what if I took my six year old daughter to see the flamingos and they saw two women kissing by the flamingos? Wouldn't that imprint her as a lesbian?" She also said that she can't make her car payment and pay her rent this month. Caught in the contradiction between her odd homophobia, her dead-end job, her desire to be a good parent and her poverty she is twisting in the wind.
These rumors tell us more about the fears people have than about politics or the elections. These fears are manufactured and played upon by people in power. The result, intended or not, is that society demobilizes itself and disintegrates to a constantly moving point of danger. There are few or no public spaces where people can meet in groups to address their fears so they experience a kind of emotional terrorism as individuals. Organizing against fear and for progressive social change is becoming more difficult as a result.